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Forget the frat party, there's book collecting to be done

February 23, 2010 |  1:37 pm

Columbustranscript
While some college students are perfecting their beer pong, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Assn. of America, the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies, the Center for the Book and the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress are teaming up to tempt them into the field of rare book collecting.

The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest will be accepting entries until June 4. The prizes, which range from $250 to $2,500, are awarded to the winning bibliophiles -- and their school libraries -- for a collection of rare books. Entrants must first win their college competitions, where they submit an annotated bibliography and a cover letter explaining their collection. Additional materials -- photos, wish lists -- can also be provided.

How can college students collect rare books? Only a very few might be able to afford the most obvious treasures, like the 1493 Latin translation of Christopher Columbus' writings, above (it's not for sale -- it's in the Library of Congress).

But UCLA, among the 30-some universities participating in the student book collection competition, shows how it can be done. Their sample entry includes inexpensive paperback editions of books by Edith Nesbit. "Finding Nesbit in first editions, or even in hardback editions, is rather pricey," the student writes, "and I have chosen to purchase some inexpensive editions in order to have a more complete collection of her work."

As many book lovers know, reading and keeping books are just half-steps away from actual collecting. Rare book collectors know many details -- about materials, print runs and copyright -- but it all starts with just wanting to have the books around.

Is there any chance of putting together the perfect bibliography on the art of beer pong?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Epistola Christofori Colom (Letters of Christopher Columbus), circa 1493. Credit: Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

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